Community Issues

First-Ever Event Hopes to Unify Community Through Conversation

Thousands of people in the Pittsburgh region will come together at hundreds of tables for a real conversation about how to make the community better.

When there's disagreement in your family, or someone is hurting, getting together around a meal is often the way to get conversation going and healing started. Same thing with our community groups: there's nothing like a potluck dinner at church or the local fire hall to get neighbors talking about things that matter.

That's the goal of something new to Pittsburgh called " The Big Table ," a one day event that's inviting people in the Pittsburgh region to connect with each other in small groups, over a meal, to have meaningful conversations about our shared values as a community, and what can be done to make us more caring and connected. The non-profit leadership organization Leadership Pittsburgh, is organizing the Pittsburgh "Big Table" which will be held on Wednesday April 17.

We talked to the head of Leadership Pittsburgh and to some Big Table participants about why they're getting involved, and what they hope will come out of the conversation.

The past 12 months have been a year of heartache in the Pittsburgh region, between the mass shooting at Tree of Life synagogue, and the shooting death of a young black man by a white police officer and the officer's subsequent trial and acquittal.

Leadership Pittsburgh Executive Director Aradhna Oliphant says those two incidents weren't the only reason for organizing "The Big Table," but they definitely fed into the belief among local leaders that the fabric of Pittsburgh as a community is torn, and talking face to face is the only way to mend it.

"When something like that happens we say how can this happen? We don't talk to each other about things that are meaningful."

"We have to believe in the power of conversation, that it really does build community." Aradhna Oliphant, Executive Director, Leadership Pittsburgh

The Big Table is meant to be self-organized, so you can hold one anywhere, and invite anyone, although there should be some people in your group who don't know each other well. The conversation can be over breakfast, lunch, dinner or an in-between snack, in your home, at a restaurant, in a conference room at work, or wherever it makes sense.

Click here and you'll be sent materials to help you get organized.

(Images: Columbus Big Table 2017)

If you want to be part of a Big Table but can't organize one, there will be public Big Tables around town. They're in places like 13 branches of the Carnegie Libraries, The Jewish Community Center, even a mall, a YMCA and the Children's museum.

Click here to find a public Big Table and register.

Kari Ogbara, who works for the Presbyterian Seniorcare Network of senior living communities will be a host at two Big Tables. She hopes lots of people participate, lots of new relationships are formed, and people come away with a new understanding of what it means to be a community.

"I'm hoping that people go in and understand that they're going to learn something new. That they actually do learn something new. That there's a level of empathy that maybe wasn't there that is now there. That we have some new ideas."

"I'm hoping... that we actually come together and do some good." Kari Ogbara, Big Table Facilitator

Hosts and participants will be surveyed afterwards about their experiences and the topics they discussed - and Leadership Pittsburgh will aggregate the information. Major themes will be shared on the LP website and with leaders and organizations from the Mayor and County Executive, to community non-profits and the media.

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